Italian influence in Tunisian spoken Arabic

Very few Tunisians realise this, but quite a few words of our spoken dialect of Arabic come from Italian, not Arabic nor French. Of course we use French words, but when we do we know it's French, but many of the words below are regarded as authentic Tunisian terms.

Italians have been to Tunisia several times: in the 2nd century BC as conquerors, in the 17th and the 18th centuries as immigrants and in the 20th as tourists. When the French protectorate started in 1881, there were 12000 Italians and only 700 French in Tunisia (*). The number of Italians grew to 85000 in 1921. The French protectorate turned into full scale colonisation, but that's another story.

As Italians came in fleeing oppression and poverty, they were well perceived by the population and quickly got fully integrated. In contrast, French came in as colonials and maintained an oppressive attitude. Well, that was occupation, so no wonders here.

Here is a list of words which were doubly verified by my wife and myself using BabelFish and an actual Italian national (thanks Ezio). I'm listing the Arabic term as pronounced by Tunisians, the Italian word, the English translation of the Italian word and the Arabic translation of the Tunisian term.

jornata/giornata/daily salary/أجر يومي
bousta/busta/postal pack/طرد
shroubo/sciroppo/sweet drink/شراب
stamba/stampa/printer/آلة كاتبة
jilat/gelato/ice cream/مثلجات
rouba fikia/roba vecchia/ملابس قديمة
gazouza/gassosa/gaseous drink/مشروب غازي

It goes without saying that I'm no linguist and no historian, these are just notes from what's surrounding me. Any additions or comments are welcome.

(*) المغرب العربي و الإستعمار الفرنسي، نور الدين الدقي 1997

هناك 28 تعليقًا:

khanouff يقول...

flouka/felouque/قارب صغير
guiata/embarcation de pêche/قارب صيد

Hannibal يقول...

That's really intresting.

Here another word:

Gazuza (Tun)- Gazoz (Eng)-Gozzoza (It).
By the way gawri seems to have another unknown origin and I think it is not related to warrior.

Imed Chihi يقول...

We checked "flouka" but couldn't match it with any Italian words. I don't recognise "guiata" and "stivali" as Tunisian terms. Sorry, I'm probably missing somthing here.

I'm adding "gossosa" to the list. I checked "gawri" against "guerriero" but I think you're right and it doesn't sound quite similar, I'll probably scrap it.

Thank you all for the comments.

Hannibal يقول...

I didn't get what you meant by clarification, but this is what I have actually said in one of my posts:


Hannibal يقول...

Ok I just got what you said. you are referring to the post on the tunisian PM's interview published in the Yediout Ahronout newspaper and from which I just quoted some sections ( in italics). The newspaper misquoted the correct theme of the Summit.Thank you anyway!

Anis يقول...


t'as oublié bounita qui vient de l'espagnol je crois :-)

Swobodin يقول...

There are some errors and one suggestion:
1) Roman came to Carthage in the IIIrd century BC, exactly 264 BC (first Punic war).
2) Century numbers are written either with full letters or Roman numbers (eg. 'XVII th'); writing centuries with Arabic numbers is erroneous (Well, that's the convention)
3) "gatto", as well as "chat", "cat", "kot", ... have Arabic origin (قط), not the oposite

My suggestion is the following: why not listing foreign words that are Arabic; you will find words that you probably have never expected; such as the French "raquette", "café", "sucre", "coton", "chimie", "alcool", ... and too many others

Imed Chihi يقول...


Thank you for the input. I have looked at "cat" on dictionary.com and it seems like it has Germanic origins. What prompted me to list it is actually the, rather non-Arabic, term "gattous". "Gattous" is closer to "gatto" than to "قط" which suggests an "influence".

The romans waged the Punic wars starting in the 3rd century BC, but didn't actually _get_ to (what's Tunisia today) until the 2nd century BC, hence the posting.

I think I will just drop the comment on the way century numbers are written: roman digitals are hard to write and hard to read so I won't use them :)

I have thought of scavenging other languages to look for words with Arabic origins, but that's a tougher task which I'll leave for a later time.

Again, thank you for the valuable input.


Swobodin يقول...

Sorry, I made a mistake.
"Cat" is from Latin "Cattus", the confusion was because of the origin of the cat itself, not its name. It appears that the cat comes from north Africa (Egyptian used to venerate it).
Regarding the Arabic influence, it worths make a research; look for example here. You should know Portuguese however :-)

Swobodin يقول...

it worths => it is worth

khanouff يقول...

Guiata et stivali sont des mots utilisées par les habitants du village de Ghar-El-Melh (Porto Farina avant l’indépendance) mais comme une bonne partie de ces habitants étaient des maltais, il se peut que ces appellations sont de cette origine c’est à dire Maltaise.

Imed Chihi يقول...

Thanks for the proposal and for the link. I'll try to put something together, but that will need some work.

I got a Colombian coworker who seems to be able to decode Portuguese.


Imed Chihi يقول...

I'll have to reconsider your request then, I may pay a visit to Ghar El Melh in 3 weeks from now and I'll ask some natives. I'll check these terms with some Italian nationals anyway.

Thank you for the contribution.


Swobodin يقول...

I do understand both Spanish and Portuguese :-)I started to develop an application that displays words whose the ethimology is Arabic, in English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish; the application is written with PHP / SQLite, will be accessible (Creaive Commons) and downloadable (GPL).
The Wikipedia Project helps a lot, however, I need contributors on both the code, looking for the words and the data entry (will be the hardest task).
Any help is greatly appreciated.

Swobodin يقول...

Please have a look at this script; it aims to display words that have Arabic origin, written with PHP / SQLite, and tell me whether you accept to help either by code or by content.
PS: Anyone is welcome too...

Imed Chihi يقول...


I hd a look at your work and it's quite nice, it looks like you know some Spanish and Portuguese but I don't know how you re cheking the origins of the words. How can you tell a certain Spanish word comes from Arabic and not vice versa?


Swobodin يقول...

Sounds bit complicated but very logical:
I look for listed Spanish words whose the origin is Arabic; for example: this portal.
If I don't understand a word, I search it at the dictionary; then I can make conclusion: it's obvious for any Arabic speaker that the origin of the word almohada (pillow) is المخدة

Imed Chihi يقول...


I see what you mean, some words are quite obviously of Arabic origin like the example you gave. I still think that a comprehensive work will need a professional linguist/historian for some words got twisted beyond recognition in Latin languages: who'd believe that Rhazes (الرازي) is the Arabic name of a Persian figure?


Swobodin يقول...

We are not professional linguists/historians, but I believe we can make better than some professional linguists/historians who did not think about a similar project, or, at least, did not think of making the project free (as in both Freedom and price)!
Some friends started to join me; of course we will make mistakes, but we will be able to fix them too...
Anyone is welcome to contribute.

Iskander يقول...

il y a aussi :

Gilate (Gelato)
Roubavikia (Ropa Vecchia)

Cool ton blog...

Imed Chihi يقول...


Thank you for your contribution, I just added both words to the list.


Karim Djerboa يقول...

What about this?
Arabic influence of English .

admiral - ami:r-al-bahr 'ruler of the seas' (and other similar expressions) - amara command
adobe - al-toba 'the brick'
albacore - al-bukr 'the young camel'
alchemy - al-ki:mi:a: - from Greek
alcohol - al-koh''l 'the kohl'
alcove - al-qobbah 'vault' - qubba vault
alembic - al-ambi:q 'the still' - from Greek
alfalfa - alfas,fas,ah 'fodder'
algebra - al-jebr 'reintegration' - jabara reunite
Algol - al-ghu:l 'the ghoul'
algorithm - al-Khowarazmi 'the (man) of Khiva'
alkali - al-qaliy 'calx' - qalay fry, roast
Allah - `allah, from contraction of al-ilah 'the god'
Almagest - al-majisti - from Greek
almanac - (Andalucian Arabic) al-mana:kh, of uncertain origin
amber - `anbar 'ambergris'
antimony - al-íthmid 'antimony trisulphide' - perhaps from Greek
apricot - al-burquq - from Greek
Arab - `arab
arsenal - dar as,s,ina`ah 'house of making', i.e. 'factory' - s,ana`a make
artichoke - al-kharshu:f
assagai - az-zaghayah - from Berber
assassin - h'ashsha:shi:n 'hashish eaters', from the Isma`ili sectarians
attar - `itr 'aroma'
ayatollah - 'ayatu-llah 'miraculous sign of God'
azimuth - as-sumut 'the paths'; see also zenith
azure - al-lazward 'lapis lazuli' - from Persian

barbican - (possibly) bâb-al-baqara 'gate with holes'
berdache - (possibly) bardaj 'slave'
Betelgeuse - bi:t al-jauza:' 'shoulder of the Giant'
bezoar - bazahr - from Persian
bint - bint 'daughter
bled - balad 'vast open country'
borax - bu:raq - from Persian
burka - burqa`
burnouse - burnus

caliber - qali:b 'mold, last' -
calico - Qaliqu:t 'Calicut', city in India
caliph - khali:fah 'successor' - khalafa 'succeed'
camise - qami:s 'shirt' - from Latin
camphor - ka:fu:r - from Malay
candy - short for 'sugar candy', from sugar + qandi 'candied', from qand 'cane sugar' - from a Dravidian language
carat - qi:ra:t 'small weight' - from Greek
caraway - alkarawya: - probably from Greek
carafe - gharra:f - gharafa 'dip'
carmine - qirmazi: 'crimson'
carob - kharrubah
cassock - kaza:ghand 'padded jacket' - from Persian
check - sha:h 'king' - from Persian
checkmate - sha:h ma:t 'the king is dead'
chemistry - see alchemy
chess - from Old French eschecs, plural of check
cipher - s,ifr 'empty'
civet - zaba:d
coffee - qahwah
Copt - quft - from Greek
cork - qu:rq
cotton - qutn
couscous - kuskus - kaskasa pound, bruise
crimson - qirmazi:, related to the qirmiz, the insect that provided the dye

Deneb - danab al-jaja:ja 'tail of the hen'
dhow - da:w
dinar - di:na:r - from Greek
dirham - dirham - from Greek
dragoman - tarjuma:n - tarjama interpret
drub - daraba 'beat'
dura mater - Latin calque on umm al-ghali:dah 'hard mother'

efreet - 'ifri:t 'monster'
El Cid - al-Sayyid 'the lord'
elixir - al-iksi:r 'philosopher's stone' - from Greek
emir - ami:r - amara command

fakir - faqi:r 'poor man' - faqura be poor
fardel - fardah 'load'
Farsi - Fa:rs 'Pars', a province of Iran - from Persian
fatwa - fetwa - fata: instruct by a legal decision
fedayeen - fida:'iyi:n 'commandos' - fida:` redemption
felafel - fala:fil
fellah - fella:h' 'husbandman' - falah'a till
felucca - fulk 'ship' - falaka be round
Fomalhaut - fum u'l-haut 'mouth of the fish'

garble - gharbala 'sift' - perhaps from Latin
gazelle - ghaza:l
genie - jinni: 'spirit'
gerbil - yarbu:`
ghoul - ghu:l 'demon' - gha:la take suddenly
giraffe - zara:fa

hadith - h'adi:t 'tradition'
haj - h'ajj 'pilgrimage' - h'ajja go on a pilgrimage
halal - h'ala:l 'lawful'
halvah - h'alwa:
harem - h'aram 'prohibited, set apart' - h'arama prohibit
hashish - h'ashi:sh 'dried herbs, hemp'
hazard - yásara 'play at dice'
hegira - hijrah 'departure' - hajara separate, go
henna - h'enna:`
Hezbollah - H'izbulla:h 'party of God'
hookah - h'uqqah 'water bottle (through which smoke is drawn)'
houri - h'u:r al-`ayu:n 'with eyes like gazelles' - h'awura have eyes like gazelles

imam - ima:m 'leader' - amma precede
Islam - isla:m 'submission' - aslama submit oneself

jar - jarrah 'large earthen vase'
jasmine - ya:smi:n - from Persian
jinn - jinn 'spirits', plural of genie
julep - jula:b 'rose water' - from Persian

Kaaba - ka`bah 'square house'
kabob - kaba:b - from Persian
kaffir - ka:fir 'infidel' - kafara conceal, deny
keffiyeh - kaffi:yah
khamsin - khamsi:n 'fifty (days)'
kismet - qisma 'portion, lot' - qasama divide
kohl - koh''l 'kohl' - kah'ala stain, paint
Koran - qura:n 'recitation' - qara`a read

lilac - li:la:k - from Persian
lemon - laymu:n - from Persian
lime - li:mah 'citrus fruit'
loofah - lu:fah a plant whose pods were used as sponges
lute - al-`u:d

macramé - miqramah 'striped cloth'
magazine - makha:zin 'storehouses' - khazana store
Mahdi - mahdi:y 'one who is guided aright' - hada: lead
majlis - majlis 'council'
mancala - mank.ala - nak.ala move
marzipan - mawthaba:n 'coin featuring a seated figure'
mask - perhaps maskhara 'buffoon' - sakhira ridicule
mattress - matrah 'place where something is thrown, mat, cushion' - tarah'a throw
minaret - mana:rah - na:r fire
mohair - mukhayyar 'choice (goats'-hair cloth)' - khayyara select
monsoon - mausim 'season' - wasama mark
mosque - masgid - sagada worship
Mozarabic - musta`rib 'would-be Arab'
muezzin - mu'adhdhin 'criers' - adhana proclaim
mufti - mufti: 'one who gives a fatwa'
mujahedeen - muja:hidi:n 'figher in a jihad'
mullah - mawla: 'master'
mummy - mu:miya: 'embalmed body' - mu:m '(embalming) wax'
Muslim - muslim 'submitter' - aslama submit oneself
muslin - Maus,il 'Mosul'

nadir - nadi:r as-samt 'opposite the zenith'
natron - natru:n - from Greek
nizam - nidam 'government'

orange - na:ranj - from Sanskrit
ottoman - `uthma:n, a proper name

pia mater - Latin calque on umm raqi:qah 'tender mother'
popinjay - babagha:
Primum Mobile - Latin calque on al-muh' arrik al-awwal 'the first mover'

racket - râh'et 'palm of the hand' Ramadan - Ramada:n meaning perhaps 'the hot month' - ramata be heated
realgar - rehj al-gha:r 'powder of the cave'
ream - rizmah 'bundle'
rebec - reba:b
Rigel - rijl 'foot (of Orion)'
roc - rukh
rook - rukh - from Persian
Rubaiyyat - ruba:`i:yah 'quatrain'

safari - safari:y 'journey' - safara travel
saffron - za`fara:n
Sahara - çah'ra: 'desert'
sahib - ça:h'ib 'friend'
salaam - as-sala:m `alaikum 'peace be on you'
saluki - salu:k.i: 'from Saluk'
Saracen - sharqi:yi:n 'easterners' - sha:raqa rise
sash - sha:sh 'muslin'
satin - probably zaytu:ni: 'of Zaytu:n' (a city in China)
scarlet - siqilla:t '(cloth) adorned with images' - from Latin
sequin - sikkah 'die for coinmaking'
Sharia - shari:`a
sheikh - shaikh 'old man' - sha:kha grow old
sherbet - sharbah - shariba drink
Shiite - shiya`i:y, from shiya:` 'following, sect' - sha`a follow
shrub [drink] - shurb 'a drink' - shariba drink
sine - Latin sinus, mistranslation of jayb 'chord of an arc, sine', through confusion with jayb 'fold of a garment'
sirocco - sharq 'east (wind)' - sha:raqa rise
sofa - s,uffah 'raised dais with cushions'
souk - su:k. 'marketplace'
spinach - isfa:na:kh
Sufi - çu:fi: 'man of wool'
sugar - sukkar - from Sanskrit
sultan - sulta:n 'sovereign'
sumac - summa:q
Sunni - sunni: 'lawful', from sunna:h 'rule, course'
sura - su:rah
syrup - shara:b 'beverage' - shariba drink

tabbouleh - tabbu:la
tabby - `atta:biy, a neighborhood in Baghdad where taffeta was made
tahini - - tah'ana crush
Taliban - talib 'student' - talaba study
talisman - tilsam - from Greek
tamarind - tamr-hindi: 'date of India'
tambourine - a small tambour, from tanbu:r - from Persian
tandoori - tannu:r 'oven'
tarboosh - tarbu:sh
tare [weight] - tarh'ah 'rejected' - tarah'a reject
tariff - ta`ri:f 'notification' - `arafa notify
tarragon - tarkhu:n - possibly from Greek
tell [mound] - tall 'hillock'

ujamaa - jama:` 'community'
ulema - `ulima: 'the learned ones' - `alama know

Vega - al-nasr al-wa:qi` 'the falling vulture'
vizier - wazi:r 'porter, public servant' - wazara carry

wadi - wa:di:
Waqf - waqf 'religious foundation'
wisdom tooth - from a Latin calque on adra:su 'l h'ikmi - calqued from Greek

zenith - samt 'path'
zero - s,ifr 'empty'

Imed Chihi يقول...

* Adjusted number of Italians (80000)
* Added reference
* Added word: seppia

Mordicus يقول...

I need Your help. I'm from Poland and for my research job i need to know how to write "algebra" in arabic. Please help me. mordicus@o2.pl

Imed Chihi يقول...

Algebra would be written as الجبر and pronounced: al-jabr. The verb means litterally "mending broken bones". In the mathematical sense, it's used to mean balancing both sides of an equation.

Drop me an e-mail at ichihi@yahoo.com if this still needs clarifications. Good luck with your research.


غير معرف يقول...

Hi Imed, i ran into your blog and i noticed you chose the word festivity as an english translation for feeshta. To me, living in north america, people here use the word holiday as opposed to festivity when it comes to talking about a day off or days off from work. Feeshta to me is more a day off from work and not necessarily a festivity. Thanks, Best, Nabil

غير معرف يقول...

Thanks for this. I think your research should be backed by somelinguistic background. It is a rather a broad field and doing a range of readings will probably help you conducting such research. Good luck.
soumaya, UK

FunClubz يقول...

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